SEO is a continuous process that needs regular attention and updates. It's not just about keeping your content up to date with the latest search trends but also adapting to frequent changes in search engine algorithms, which happen hundreds of times each year. We discussed the major updates from 2023 last month. Ideally, these updates between SEO strategies and search engine algorithms should enhance the quality of search results. Considering the upcoming introduction of AI-generated search tools and a packed schedule of algorithm updates, along with increased search activities, it's interesting to observe how much the pages ranking in organic searches have changed compared to a few years ago.
Here at BrightEdge, we've monitored 10,000 keywords over the last three years using our SearchIQ technology. These keywords were selected across ten different industries: banking, e-commerce, advertising, higher education, travel and hospitality, industrial machinery, insurance, manufacturing, real estate, and software. SearchIQ analyzes various attributes, such as on-page content, technical SEO factors, backlinks, and contextual features like Schema for the top-ranking websites for each keyword. This analysis helps us understand the evolution of these attributes as SEO professionals enhance their websites and as search engines refine their ranking methods.
So, what have we learned from three years of tracking these 10,000 keywords? The findings are quite striking, especially with some significant changes observed in the past year.
Top Ranking web pages are now loading faster than ever before
With SearchIQ, we obtain the average Lighthouse Performance Score for each page we see in the top ten rankings. This score is a weighted average of various metrics that measure site accessibility, speed, and user experience quality.
In 2021, Google implemented its Page Experience Update, aiming to factor in Core Web Vitals—key metrics for a quality user experience—into its page ranking criteria. The Lighthouse Score encompasses several of these essential metrics. Following this update, not only did SEO experts start to focus more on the user experience, but we also observed a tangible effect on organic search results. As we entered 2023, a survey among SEO professionals revealed that 90% of them considered SEO a key focus for their organizations in the year ahead. An analysis of the top 10 ranking pages for all 10,000 keywords we monitor shows a notable improvement in performance scores from last January to today, surpassing the progress made from 2021 to early 2023.
The reason behind the improved loading times for top-ranking web pages may be up for debate. Some may attribute it to more effective SEO strategies, while others might point to Google's Page Experience update, which rewards pages that offer a better user experience. Regardless of the cause, it's clear that pages in the top 10 now have better Lighthouse scores than they did two years ago. If your SEO plans for 2024 haven't yet taken page experience into consideration, it's crucial to start now. Assess your website against your competitors to ensure you're not falling behind in this important area.
SEO is achieving more with fewer words
Using Search IQ, we've been able to examine certain attributes of web pages that, while not direct ranking factors, highlight some intriguing trends in the pages that make it to the top 10 in organic search results over time.
Interestingly, we've noticed a general decline in keyword density. This downward trend is also seen in the total number of keywords used and the overall word count of the pages that rank well. Despite this, the on-page SEO score has been on the rise. BrightEdge assigns this score based on indicators of sound SEO practices, such as the presence of meta tags and the strategic use of keywords throughout essential parts of the page.
What does this tell us? There are two main takeaways: SEO professionals are optimizing content in a more natural way, and search engines are improving at interpreting search intent and the nuances of long-tail queries. Google has long advised against overusing keywords—a practice known as keyword stuffing—and our data shows that such tactics are indeed not effective for achieving better rankings.
For SEO practitioners in 2024, it's important to create content that not only targets a primary keyword but also addresses the related intents and concepts. Moreover, our data suggests that this is increasingly being accomplished with fewer words on the page.
Websites are leveraging schema more effectively
Schema markup, while not directly influencing rankings, plays a vital role in helping search engines comprehend the context of website content, potentially enhancing how this content is presented in search results. The adoption of schema also signals that a site is actively engaged in SEO.
An analysis of schema usage across the top 10 results for our pool of 10,000 keywords reveals that not only has there been an increase in schema implementation, but the diversity of schema types per page has also expanded.
Specifically, the "Organization" schema tag usage has significantly increased from 2023 to the present, whereas the "Website" schema tag has seen a decrease over the same period. Additionally, we've noticed the rise of the "Question and Answer" schema throughout 2023.
Although there's no formal directive on the exact content requirements to rank well with generative AI like SGE, our Ultimate Guide to SGE suggests content will need to cater to the conversational aspects of AI. The data implies that webmasters might be aligning their schema toward conversational elements and authoritative information to better engage with AI capabilities.
The conclusion from this data is unequivocal: the top-ranking pages are not only using more schema tags, but they're also more strategic in their application.
SEO in 2024: faster sites, smarter keyword usage, and contextual relevance
The trends we're seeing indicate that the websites which secure top rankings are those that load quickly, use keywords more subtly, and provide stronger contextual signals as we head into 2024 compared to previous years. For businesses aiming to maximize their SEO effectiveness this year, it's essential to concentrate on these elements. Users of BrightEdge can utilize SearchIQ to identify changes from last year to this year for their tracked keywords and to establish benchmarks for new ones. We are eager to observe the continuous advancements in organic search experiences throughout this year!